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Pope's nuclear focus underscores his major themes

Human dignity must be at the center of all social, economic and political activity

Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Pope's nuclear focus underscores his major themes

A wooden carved sculpture of a pregnant woman and a pirogue's model, symbolizing the stakes within the only way to travel on the Amazon rivers, is pictured during a procession of indigenous leaders, prelates and people participating in the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region on Oct. 19. (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

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While much of the focus of Pope Francis’ trip to Japan and Thailand was often very tightly on his plea for a nuclear arms-free world, at every stage he was also strongly focused on the environment, the world’s growing and glaring wealth disparity and the dignity of life.

These are the enduring themes of his papacy — nuclear weapons, the environment, rampantly destructive capitalism and looking after the weak and dispossessed, which he increasingly links as he strongly believes, along with many scientists and economists, they are inextricable. They sit at the center of his encyclical Laudato si’: On Care for our Common Home that set up the themes for his papacy when it was published in May 2015, barely two years after his election and reflected in the motto for his Japanese trip, “Protect All Life,” a missive he returned to time and again during his visit.

First, it is important to be clear just how serious Francis is about his absolute rejection of nuclear weapons. He plans to add to the Catechism of the Catholic Church “not only their use but also possessing them: because an accident or the madness of some government leader, one person’s madness can destroy humanity.”

When he first gave voice to this extension, if you like, in Hiroshima on Nov. 24 of the evil of simply possessing nuclear weapons (repeating a line he first used at a Vatican conference two years earlier), it was hard not to think about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who already this year has tested various rockets designed to carry nuclear weapons. The sense of clear and present danger in Japan is very real.

One link was made particularly clearly in his obvious ambivalence over the use of nuclear power, which Japanese bishops have petitioned for the past two years to have included in the pontiff’s anti-nuclear stance. Their concerns are obvious and stem from the human and environmental cost of the accident at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima in March 2011. The pope met survivors in Japan when he touched on the delicate subject of nuclear power.

“Our age is tempted to make technological progress the measure of human progress. This “technocratic paradigm” of progress and development shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society, and often leads to a reductionism that affects every aspect of human and social life (cf. Laudato si’, 101-114).

“So it is important at times like this to pause and reflect upon who we are and, perhaps more critically, who we want to be. What kind of world, what kind of legacy, will we leave to those who will come after us? The wisdom and experience of elders, united to the zeal and enthusiasm of young people, can help to forge a different vision, one that fosters reverence for the gift of life and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the one multiethnic and multicultural human family.

“As we think about the future of our common home, we need to realize that we cannot make purely selfish decisions, and that we have a great responsibility to future generations. Consequently, we must choose a humble and sober way of life that recognizes the urgent realities we are called to face.”

Indeed, as the pope made even clearer on his way back to Rome, he personally (rather than as a matter of church doctrine) does not favor the use of nuclear energy at present.

“Important decisions will have to be made about the use of natural resources and future energy sources in particular.” But, he added, “the most important thing, I believe, is to progress in building a culture capable of combating indifference,” which he said is one of the great ills of the world.

“We need to work together to foster awareness that if one member of our family suffers, we all suffer. Real interconnectedness will not come about unless we cultivate the wisdom of togetherness, the only wisdom capable of facing problems and solutions in a global way. We are part of one another.”

Caring for our common home

The environment, of course, was also front and center of the recent special Amazon synod, although the issue was unfortunately sidelined in the international media by the vote to allow married priests in certain circumstances in remote areas of the Amazon region. And again, it’s important not to see the initiatives, homilies and apostolic visits of Pope Francis as a string of separate events but rather as a continuum whose themes are always linked back to the central whole.

So, again, it is important to see Pope Francis’ main thematics and concerns as elements of a holistic approach to caring for our common home (earth), a central theme he returns to again and again in multiple and sometimes surprising ways.

And so, it was the environment that took center stage during the pope’s historic meeting with Japan’s Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo, using the country’s natural symbol of the sakura, the cherry blossom, as inspiration as he noted that no visitor to Japan could fail to be moved by the sheer natural beauty of this country that has long celebrated by its poets and artists.

“Yet the very delicacy of the cherry blossom reminds us of the fragility of our common home, subjected not only to natural disasters but also to greed, exploitation and devastation at the hands of human beings,” Francis said. “As the international community struggles to honor its commitments to protecting creation, it is the young who are increasingly speaking up and demanding courageous decisions. They challenge us to see that the world is not a possession to be squandered but a precious legacy to be handed down.

The pontiff explained that an integral approach to the protection of our common home must also consider its human ecology and that a commitment to protection means confronting the growing gap between rich and poor in a global economic system that “enables a select few to dwell in opulence while the majority of the world’s population lives in poverty.”

Human dignity, he said, must be at the center of all social, economic and political activity; intergenerational solidarity must be fostered, and at every level of community life concern must be shown for those who are forgotten and excluded.

To drive home his message against nuclear war, as part of a broader theme of protecting all life, the pope invoked the words of Albert Einstein, whose discoveries led to successful chain reactions even though he remained a committed pacifist throughout his life: “The Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Those words remain true today should, somehow, a nuclear conflagration ensue.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.

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